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Siege of Cair Andros: Strategy and Theme

by on January 21, 2013

ithilien map

We’ve arrived! This is the final installment of Tales From the Cards’ strategy and theme review of the 3 Heirs of Numenor scenarios. Hopefully, it won’t be too long a wait until The Steward’s Fear, the first Adventure Pack of the Against the Shadow cycle, comes out. But until then, the challenging and very strategic Siege of Cair Andros will keep us all very well-occupied.

Theme: Lore-wise, Cair Andros was an island garrison in the Anduin River, located north of Osgiliath. A key strategic site, its role was to prevent the forces of Mordor from crossing the river and having a clear march to Minas Tirith and the rest of Gondor. There was a Battle of Cair Andros in the lore, but that one occurred roughly around the time of the Battle of Pelennor Fields, with 1,000 soldiers of Gondor facing off against a 15,000 strong force of orcs and Easterlings. Gondor lost that battle decisively, and Cair Andros was taken by the Enemy. The battle taking place in this scenario, however, is supposed to represent an earlier engagement, as it is known that the forces of Mordor were continually probing at multiple points in the years leading up to the War of the Ring.

This is LOTR LCG’s first foray into depicting a large-scale battle a la Helm’s Deep or Pelennor Fields. The closest we’ve gotten is the Massing at Osgiliath, which was more of an escape from an army than fighting against one, and the Battle of Lake-Town, an epic battle against a single, albeit fearsome, foe. If you are the type that jumps straight to the scene of Legolas surfboarding down a staircase on your Lord of the Rings Blu-Ray or has dreams of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with your comrades against a massing horde, this is probably the quest for you. So how did FFG do in terms of representing an epic siege, after designing quests that have been on the smaller, more fellowship-sized scale? Overall, they have done quite well in immersing players in this new type of scenario, and it has quickly become one of my new favorites. Surprisingly, I found it easier than Into Ithilien, although by no means a cakewalk. Rather, it is more ripe for strategic planning, whereas Into Ithilien sometimes feels like you just got jumped in a dark alley, robbed of all your possessions, and stabbed a few dozen times. In other words, strategy won’t save you.

The biggest highlight for me as far as theme goes is the mechanic regarding quest stages. For those who haven’t played the quest yet, the Siege of Cair Andros begins with three battleground locations in play, which can be damaged by undefended attacks, as well as certain enemy effects and treacheries. Every time you successfully explore one, you gain the benefit of removing an associated quest stage, making your path much easier. Not only does this introduce another element of strategy to the game, it effectively represents the heroes rushing from battleground to battleground trying to prevent the enemies from breaking through. As far as improvements go, one thing that I felt was lacking was war units on the player side. While the encounter deck has enemies that represent whole units, like the Orc Vanguard or Siege Raft, there is no equivalent for the player. It would be nice to have a Gondorian Guard Regiment or something similar. While I don’t think they should be player cards, as that would unbalance things for other quests, introducing them as objectives and maybe even having players send them to different battlegrounds as part of the strategy would be a cool thematic touch. Overall, though, I felt like I was under siege, and my victories were never accomplished without casualties and wounded heroes.

Theme rating: ♦♦♦♦

Strategy: How do you survive the Siege of Cair Andros? There is one path I have found that has a pretty high success rate, but is by no means an instant win. I will explain this strategy in-depth, but since part of the fun of the game is figuring out your own path to victory, I will also round out the article with some general tips that might help you find your own way to defeat the enemy horde.

Choose your battles – My path: I decided early on that I would not try to save (explore) all three locations. My reasoning was that between encounter card effects and undefended attacks, I would probably lose at least one of the battlegrounds, and so my best approach would be to have a set strategy in advance of which locations I wanted to prioritize. At first I was planning to focus on just one location (The Citadel), because it has the highest damage threshold and eliminates one of the nastier quest stages. After a couple of play-throughs though, I quickly found that saving two battlegrounds was not only possible but gave me a far better chance of success. Let me walk you through how I approach the first few turns of the Siege to give you a sense of my strategy and the reasoning behind it.

1) For the first round, the staging area starts out with the three battleground locations in play for a total of 6 threat. I take into account the fact that the first staging will probably add at least another 2-3 threat per player, therefore I commit most of my characters to the quest to at least match this total. If I have a Secret Paths to cancel some of the threat, that will make things a bit easier, but those effects are better served for later turns. My prime concern is not necessarily to make quest progress, but rather just to prevent any large threat increases if I fail (once all battleground locations are out of play, you progress to the next stage automatically anyway). I do want each player to keep at least 1 character back for defensive purposes. These reserve characters are necessary because any undefended attacks must be placed on The Banks, which can take only 3 damage tokens before it is destroyed. I really want to avoid this, as exploring The Banks removes quest stage 2, which I’ve found to be very tricky because it causes one extra card to be revealed during staging each turn. With the enemies that are present in the encounter deck, you do not want the encounter deck to have a chance of piling up on you, so avoiding quest stage 2 alone dramatically improves your chances.

2) After the first quest phase, I immediately travel to the The Banks. I distribute whatever enemies there are to the players, and soak up the attacks using the characters who have been held back for defense. Chump blockers are a good choice here, as is Frodo, as your really high-defense heroes will probably be needed for siege questing, My main concern here is to prevent any damage from being placed on The Banks and destroying it. I probably won’t have the characters available to strike back, but that’s not the prime concern at the moment.

3) For the second turn, I need to commit enough characters to fully explore The Banks. This is where any cards that can cancel threat in the staging area like Ithilien Tracker, Radagast’s Cunning, Ranger Spikes, or Secret Paths really come into play. If I don’t clear The Banks this turn, I am going to be in a bit of trouble because of its low damage threshold, and I really don’t want to dawdle in this quest. With The Banks hopefully explored, I now travel to The Citadel. Yes that’s right, I leave The Approach in the staging area as my sacrificial lamb. This choice really comes down to assessing which quest stages are the most dangerous. The Citadel is associated with quest stage 4, which is a siege with the added effect that the quest card itself contributes 5 threat. Sieges are generally the hardest types of questing, as there aren’t as many defense-boosting effects as there are ones that boost willpower and attack. A permanent 5 threat that you can’t cancel makes quick progress an uphill battle. On the other hand, The Approach lets you clear out quest stage 3, which is a battle. It has an effect requiring players to discard a character instead of raising threat if they quest unsuccessfully. This is a much more manageable situation than quest stage 4, as I can usually create large amounts of attack for battle questing and never have had to discard a character as a result of the effect. With this in mind, I am fine with The Approach being destroyed so that I can concentrate on successfully exploring The Citadel.

4) It usually takes me about two turns to explore The Citadel, with 11 progress tokens needed to clear it. During that time, I use The Approach to soak up damage from enemy attacks, as well as part of The Citadel (but not enough to destroy it). This leaves  my characters relatively free from defensive duties so I can instead concentrate on both questing and attacking, destroying as many enemies as possible so that future rounds are a bit less hectic. With The Citadel explored, I move to quest stage 3 and then quest stage 5. By this point, I should have built up enough allies and strength to quest through these stages rapidly.

Choose your battles – Other paths: There are certainly other paths you could take. If you are confident that your deck is balanced enough to quest through every type of stage at a fast pace, it is perfectly possible to simply decide to sacrifice all of the locations as buffers for enemy attacks. This would mean you would have to proceed through all 5 quest stages, but would presumably give you plenty of time to build up allies and attachments. On the other hand, you may decide to attempt to explore all three locations, leaving only the last quest stage. In this case, you would need decks that get allies out very quickly so that they can serve as chump blockers, allowing you to keep damage off of the three battlegrounds. My main advice is to know your battlegrounds strategy in advance, instead of trying to figure it out as you go along. Of course, things may change and your best-laid plans may fall apart, but know what path you want to take and stay focused.

* Be prepared for shadow chaining: To be successful at this quest, you must be aware at all times of the dangerous way that the shadow effects in this quest can chain together. Many shadow cards will call for you to draw additional ones, which will then demand even more to be drawn, which will then…well, you get the picture. This chain of shadows can lead to huge attack bonuses for the enemy you are facing. Suddenly, your impervious defender, Beregond, who was laughing at that 3 attack enemy now finds himself making a surprise visit to the Halls of Mandos (in other words, dead). So with that mind, here are a few words of advice. First, if you remember, I previously advised not relying on chump blocking all the time. However, this is a quest where you should disregard that advice and chump block to your little heart’s content. That way if one of those nasty 8-card shadow chains pops up, at least its a Snowbourn Scout getting mauled and not one of your precious heroes. Second, keep plenty of shadow-canceling cards like Hasty Stroke available, and save them to disrupt shadow chains. Even a card that doesn’t see much play like Dawn Take You All could be worth a go in this case to save yourself some pain. One last note is that the Orc Arsonist enemy adds shadow cards to any foes you are currently engaged with, which is good incentive to prevent a pile-up on your side of the board.

Know your treacheries, but don’t fear any one in particular: You should never take treacheries lightly in this game. Ever. That being said, there is no one widow-maker treachery in this quest like Collateral Damage (Peril in Pelargir) or Blocking Wargs (Into Ithilien). Instead, there are a couple of treacheries that, if they hit you at the wrong time, can hurt you. You need to know what they are and be suitably prepared, so here’s a rundown of a few of the notable effects:

– The Power of Mordor: This treachery has Doomed 2 and requires you to shuffle the cards that are currently in the staging area back into the encounter deck, revealing an equal amount of new cards to replace them. This could actually give you a better situation or possibly hurt you badly, but this treachery is most notable in that if it comes up early in the scenario, it could force you to shuffle the battleground locations back into the deck, completely ruining your well-planned strategy. You would then be stuck searching through the deck for those battlegrounds, as well as hoping they don’t get discarded as shadows. There is only one copy in the deck, so the probability of this happening is not great, but it did happen to me once. Note that this treachery cannot be cancelled. If you are really worried about it, you could use scrying effects (Denethor or Henamarth Riversong) followed by Out of the Wild to pluck Power of Mordor out of the encounter deck, but it is not consistent enough of a threat for me to recommend this approach.

– The Master’s Malice: An interesting treachery, this one requires each player to choose one sphere, dealing 3 damage to each character they control that is not from that sphere. This basically penalizes multi-sphere decks. So one simple way to minimize the effects of this treachery is to build mono-sphere decks or use allies from only one sphere. Beyond that, if you are running multi-sphere decks, you will want to make sure that the hero that comes from the minority sphere has enough hit points to eat 3 damage tokens without dying. For example, one of my decks used 2 Tactics heroes, with the 1 Spirit hero being Frodo, which gave me peace of mind that he could survive The Master’s Malice. It will likely purt a hurting on some of your allies though. Note that the Orc Alabesters enemy also disproportionately affects multi-sphere decks as well by making the amount of archery damage it deals contingent on the number of different resource icons in play. So the final piece of the puzzle to make sure that you can survive both The Master’s Malice and Orc Alabasters is to make sure that you have plenty of healing available. You will be grateful to have the new Warden of Healing, as well as Elrond, Daughter of the Nimrodel, Lore of Imladris, and even Self Preservation, when you are staring down the barrel of 16 archery damage in one turn, as I did at one point.

– The Scourge of Mordor: This one is a treachery designed to sabotage your well-laid plans for questing, as it requires each player to discard the top card from their deck, adding the cost as threat. This could either be painful, if you end up discarding that 5-cost Gandalf, or painless, if it ends up being some 0-cost event or attachment. In most cases, you can get by without having to specifically plan for this treachery. However, if it is coming down to the last quest stage and you really need to finish things out quickly, you might want to keep this treachery in mind so that it doesn’t throw a wrench in the works right when you can least afford it. In that case, using an Imladris Stargazer or Gildor Inglorion to keep a low-cost card on top of your deck might be worthwhile to completely neuter this treachery.

Don’t bring a dagger to a battering ram fight: In other words, be ready for the couple of enemies in this scenario that boast ludicrously high attack values. Leaving aside the Mumak, which popped up in previous scenarios, the Battering Ram has 7 attack, 3 defense, and 5 hit points, meaning it is not only tough to defend against but difficult to destroy as well. The Orc Vanguard ups the ante even further, boasting 8 attack, 3 defense, and 5 hit points. If that wasn’t bad enough, it practically demands a player to engage with it, as otherwise it prevents the playing of resources by non-Tactics heroes. There are a couple of ways to prepare for these high-stakes fights. One is to include some the heavy-hitting, giant-slaying heroes like Gimli or Beorn, as well as attack-boosting weapons and events (Khazad! Khazad!, Rivendell Blade, Dwarven Axe, For Gondor!, Support of the Eagles, etc.), and having them ready to take out the Battering Rams and Orc Vanguards as soon as they hit the table. Erebor Battle-Master is another great character for this scenario. The other enemies in the quest have relatively low attack values (though don’t forget about shadow chaining), so your other characters should be able to deal with them fairly easily, while your slayers take care of business. On the other hand, you can try to strategically dodge and/or neturalize these enemies with Forest Snare, O Elbereth! Gilthonial! or Ranger Spikes (keep in mind that the Orc Vanguard will still have its effect as long as it is in the staging area so that the Spikes will be of limited utility for that particular enemy). Finally, remember that in the early rounds, the battleground locations can be used to soak up a couple of hits from Orc Vanguard and/or Battering Ram.


Well, that about does it for Heirs of Numenor. The high difficulty of these quests and new mechanics have demanded advanced levels of strategic thinking, deck-building, not to mention a bit of luck as well. Hopefully, these strategy guides have provided you with a few helpful tidbits while doing battle against Southrons and orc hordes. Readers, what is your favorite path through the Siege of Cair Andros? What have been your most memorable victories and horrific defeats?


From → Strategy

  1. Another great article, sir! I really like how thoroughly you covered the strategic planning behind which battlegrounds to keep and which to sacrifice. This is definitely a key to surviving the Siege of Cair Andros.

  2. I finally beat The Siege of Cair Andros today for the first time, but not without losing both Boromir and Beregond when The Last Battle began and the Haradrim Elite attacked. My strategy was to explore all of the battlefield locations in order, which may explain why I lost so many times before now. I’ve found both Winged Guardian and Vassal of the Windlord to be very helpful in progressing in the siege/battle quests. I do absolutely love the thematic flavor of these three Heirs of Numenor quests and am eagerly anticipating the adventure packs (the first I’ll be able to unwrap at the same time as everyone else since I started playing at Christmas!).

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      I’m really looking forward to the AP’s for this cycle. If anything, I feel like the scenarios are getting more creative over time. The difficulty of HoN has bothered some folks out there, and I can definitely understand why, but I feel that in time they will become more manageable, just as the Core Set quests once seemed truly difficult until the card pool expanded.

  3. Steve permalink

    Great write-up. Im at Return to Mirkwood, so long ways to go, but these HoN sound nasty.

  4. Fouilloux permalink

    I just played (and win!) siege of cair andros with two new players (I made the deck and we got lucky). This is truly a hard quest.

    I read your article just now, because I wanted to discover the quest by myself before. I am surprise you do not mention the treachery(I do not know it’s English name) that lower the attack and Defense of every character by two! That’s the worst treachery ever!

    • TalesfromtheCards permalink

      There’s definitely a few nasty treacheries in the quest!

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